Venice 2019 Opens

by Luca Celada August 29, 2019
Jury members of the 2019 Cannes Festival

Festival hostess Alessandra Mastronardi, Jury President Main competition Lucrecia Martel, Jury President Venice Virtual Reality Laurie Anderson, Jury President of the Horizons competition Susanna Nicchiarelli, Jury President for Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film Emir Kusturica and Jury President of Venice Classics Costanza Quatriglio on the stage during the opening ceremony during the 76th Venice Film Festival.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

“Festivals are in the natural order of free and open societies,” said Biennale president Paolo Baratta during the festival opening ceremony from the stage of the Sala Grande. His auspices – and the implication that film festivals might be needed today more than ever - were well received by the elegant crowd that packed the theater.

The truly thunderous applause, however,  came a couple of hours later at the end of The Truth (La Verité), Hirokazu Kore-eda’s French-language film which opened the festival in earnest. The 57-year-old Japanese filmmaker made a stir last year with Shoplifters which took the Palme D’Or at Cannes.

With The Truth, he has crafted another work about the subtleties and pitfalls of family dynamics. With two major differences: the family here is French and instead of destitute parents it is headed by elegant matriarch Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve). Aging but whip-sharp screen legend currently filming her latest role – a supporting character to a young up and comer that she barely tolerates. When her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) and her American husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) come to visit from New York with their own young daughter, old recriminations inevitably bubble to the surface (mainly between the diva mother and the devoted, yet antagonistic daughter). The deftly crafted film was well received by the Lido audience, although some of the warmth may have been goodwill and admiration towards Deneuve – the real-life diva in yet another triumphant Venice return.

The festival continued with Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The Netflix entry and the author’s 13th film is the story of a divorce between a theater director (Adam Driver) and his actress wife (Scarlett Johansson). It chronicles the couple’s falling out of love and increasingly acrimonious custody battle which in spite of every best intention ensnares the young, creative and brilliant couple in all the predictable pitfalls of divorce (abetted by a trio of divorce lawyers brilliantly played by Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, and Laura Dern). Just like in Kore-eda’s film the elusive “truth” is at the heart of the film as each parent attempts to craft a narrative from fractious memories. Truth and its manipulation are of course at the heart of film making as well. When Baumbach met HFPA journalists here he quoted Philp Roth on the role of artists who “strike two stones of truth to spark imagination”.

And there will be many more occasions to reflect on that delicate balance and more as the festival progresses affording everyone “the opportunity,” as jury president Lucrecia Martel said, “to watch movies and think about them and discuss them and the state of things in the world."